By Bonnie McCubbin
“For all the saints, who from their labors rest,” rung out to open the annual Memorial Service, in the Key Ballroom at the Hilton Hotel in Baltimore on Thursday, June 1 at 7 p.m., to honor clergy, clergy spouses, and lay members to Annual Conference, as well as other clergy family members who have died since the last Annual Conference meeting was held.
The members and guests of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference, as well as the families of the honored persons gathered in low lighting at round tables with index cards, pencils, fist-sized rocks, and wooden crosses to set the scene. The families of the deceased were seated at reserved tables in front of the platform while the house band played music with an acoustic vibe.
Music and liturgy for the service were conducted primarily in English, although Spanish and Korean were also included. The scripture for the service came from John 13:31-35, the theme scripture that reminds us it is “All About Love.”
Bishop LaTrelle Miller Easterling introduced the preacher for the service, Rev. Linda Motter, by reading her biography and then sharing some personal affirmations. Rev. Motter is one of five Methodist pastors in her Paternal Watkins family tree. There was one in each generation, dating back to her great-grandfather. She attended Wesley Seminary after leaving her work as a dental hygienist for 32 years. After serving several appointments, in 2021, Rev. Motter was appointed to Calvary UMC, Annapolis, MD, where she currently serves. Bishop Easterling continued by saying, “That’s the bio, but she is a woman of quiet strength. There is a peace that you feel when you come into her presence. A calming, sweet aroma simply wafts about the space she inhabits.” Bishop Easterling affirmed Rev. Motter’s presence by stating that the Episcopal Office invited her to be the speaker, but the invitation is “ordained by God,” and she is “the speaker we need to hear at this hour to give us a calming word.”
Rev. Motter received gentle laughter as she began by proclaiming, “I’m pretty short so I need to pull out my stepstool!” From there though, she got down to the business at hand: honoring those who have passed away this year. She focused extensively not only on the holy work of those who had served, but also the holy work of supporting those who are serving.
“When I was a little girl growing up in east Tennessee,” Rev. Motter said as she began to weave a story and narrative that would carry her through to the conclusion of the sermon, “all four of my grandparents were dedicated and faithful Christians.” Her mother’s parents lived on a tobacco farm and attended the Missionary Baptist Church. Her father’s parents lived in cities where her Papaw—"that’s Southern for grandfather”—was appointed. From her grandparents, Rev. Motter learned about an unwavering faith in God “no matter what.” She attended VBS, prayed, and spent time in devotionals, all while developing a love for good old-fashioned hymn songs. As she got older, she found herself in service to church. But at 35 years of age, she said “God called me to ordained ministry.” And she started objecting, stating, “I’m not my Papaw! I can’t do that!” She explained, “I can’t do it, but God in me can. All I needed to do and still need to do is get out of our Creator’s way.” She reminded the body that “I’ve lived my life longer as a lay person than a pastor. My experience shows answering God’s call into ministry requires an inordinate amount of support from family and friends. The saints we honor tonight were supported by saints—that’s all of you here tonight. You encouraged your loved one in their call.”
A chuckle came when Rev. Motter declared, “I give homework as a pastor.” She reminded those gathered that “We are not to worship God and put God in a box. We are to take the Almighty God and infuse that into our lives. After we leave this place, throughout the week/month/year, continue sharing stories about those who have shared ministry with us.”
The sermon continued with a humorous re-telling of ministry events that make people chuckle. In one such story, her Papaw was preaching while her Daddy (Marvin), and his younger brother, Ray, were sitting with their sister, Mary Sue in church. Mary Sue got sick and Mamaw took her out. The boys were left on the front pew. But after they began to misbehave, from the pulpit Papaw asked to be excused. He moved the boys to a small room behind the pulpit area. From this room were two doors—one on either side of the pulpit. After returning to preach, Papaw had great difficulty regaining the congregation’s attention. As the eyes of the congregation wandered from one side of the stage to the other, Papaw started to figure out what had happened. He finally figured it out: Ray had opened both doors to the sacristy and was sticking his head out on one side and then the other and smiling while Papaw preaching.
Rev. Motter declared that “saints have dedicated their lives to God’s work. You know what it means to support them in their ministry” through encouragement, care, sacrifices, and prayers. Sometimes you move before you are ready to go and have to make new friends. But this experience also leads the pastor’s family to having more people to love and support them.
While Rev. Motter was employed as a dental hygienist she had a woman recognize her last name and said that when her father died suddenly, “Papaw was my pastor. My family wouldn’t have made it through that difficult time without your Papaw.” She then confidently proclaimed, “I was so proud of Papaw’s ministry.”
Life in a pastor family wasn’t always easy. Family plans and vacations would often be delayed or canceled. Back when phones were tethered to the wall in the 1940s, a family called to let the pastor know that their loved one had died, and the pastor, along with spouse and children had to unload the entire car and miss their vacation because “funerals always happened three days after the death.” “Being in the Methodist Church doesn’t mean everything is easy, can I get an ‘Amen’?!” And the congregation affirmed, “Amen!”
Rev. Motter explained that “Saints are people set apart by God and for God. A saint is simply a sinner who has discovered God’s grace in Jesus the Christ.” The call to be a saint is both for those who serve in ordained or licensed ministry and for those who support them. She reminded those gathered that “we grieve and miss their presence, their sweet spirits sitting next to us at the table, we miss their voices.” But, despite, or perhaps ins spite of this, “We rejoice in knowing that, as followers of Jesus, they too will be resurrected. And we will see them once again, Amen?” “Amen!”
After the conclusion of the sermon, the reading of the names was announced. During the reading, the worship team would assist the saints in taking flight as origami-folded doves from the baptismal font located on a separate stage in the center of the room to the altar. Each dove and been prayed over and included the name of one of the deceased. As a bell rang, a dove would “fly” from the font to the white trees with lights as a sign of the resurrection to come.
For many years, the reading of the names included any deceased bishops from any annual conference, clergy, clergy spouses, and those Lay Members to Annual Conference who were actively serving at the time of their passing. This year was no exception. In between verses of Charles Wesley’s “What Wondrous Love is This” a bell sounded for each of these persons:
Clergy: Steven D Abel, George W. Anderson, James P. Archibald, Jacques Banks, Ernest E. Bortner, Jr., Susan Beth Carns, Mary Jane Coleman, Reynold Block Connett, Lyle Edward Harper, Alfonso J. Harrod, Patricia Delores Johnson, Lamar Warner Kopp, Mildred Constance Martin, Yvonne Mercer-Staten, Randall Kent Pratt, Patricia Ann Pride, Clayton Eugene Rhodes, John David Roberts, Theresa Annett Robinson, Hayden L. Sparks, Julian Alpheus Tavenner, Bruce Carl Thompson, Owen Byrd Womack, Kenneth Bruce Welliver
Clergy Spouses: Mary S. Boyer, Mary Ritzman Ebinger, Laura May Godbold Elgert, Jennie Mae Larue-Garrett, Elizabeth Hammersla, Barbara Anne Jones, Joyce B. Kirkley, Jeannine Cathartine Sanford Parker, David B. Sapp, Louise B. Smith
Lay Members: Thomas W Flinn, Sr., Daniel McCrae, Alan Stottlemyer
Those that were unnamed had their own bell and dove before the attendees were invited to write a “love note” to their loved ones who are no longer present on this earth. This is sticking with the Conference theme, “All About Love.” The notes were collected in baskets and taken to the altar for prayer.
During this time, Rev. Scott Shumaker stood silently as a group of clergy and laity gathered around him in silent prayer and the laying on of hands. Earlier in the afternoon, a resolution for a bereavement policy, brought by Rev. Terri Coffiel, passed with a Shumaker amendment to include the children of deceased clergy and others at the Memorial Service. Bishop Easterling brought him a microphone so that the name of Joshua Scott Shumaker, the young adult son of Rev. Shumaker, could be lifted after his passing in March. Bishop Easterling then took a dove to the altar for Joshua.
As the sweet melody of “Come and Find Our Quiet Center” drifted through the assembled body, a representative of each family was invited to come to the altar to receive their dove. The service concluded with the congregation singing “Jesus, Joy of Our Desiring,” followed by a benediction.
After a brief break to re-set the space, work on resolutions began in earnest after a prayer for Sandy Ferguson, a retired layperson, who served as the BWC's director of Connectional Ministry and a leader in the denomination was lifted. Her name was accidentally excluded from the reading of the names.
As the body continued to vow to go onto perfection in faith as they righted the wrongs and exclusions, they could be found humming, “Oh blest communion, fellowship divine! We feebly struggle, they in glory shine.” (For All the Saints, v. 4)